§ (2.38.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I do not think it necessary to enter at great length into the reasons that compel the Government to place this Motion on the Order Paper. I have from time to time kept the House informed of the difficulties we have been in in complying with the law in finishing the whole of the Financial Business before the end of the financial year; and, as the House knows, the Government obtained facilities 1200 for carrying on that Business, so far back as the 4th March, The Government, from various causes, have not been able to take full advantage of the time which has been placed at their disposal. I have just refreshed my memory with what took place with regard to the days; and since the 3rd March, when we obtained Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays for Financial Business, there have been eight Government days—that is to say, Mondays and Thursdays, and Tuesdays and Fridays. Of these, eight days, three, and three only, were wholly devoted to the discussion of the Financial Business which we desired the House to deal with. On the 4th March, the first day after obtaining the facilities a Private Bill occupied nearly half the Morning Sitting. On the 8th March another Private Bill and a short discussion on the Mombasa Privilege Debate occupied the whole Sitting. On Thursday, the 10th March, the Eastbourne Bill, a Private Bill, and an Adjournment moved with regard to the famine in India occupied up to past 10 o'clock at night; and On Friday, the 11th March, when we had a Morning Sitting, a Private Bill and a further discussion upon the Privilege question raised with, regard to the votes of Members of the House occupied till nearly 5 o'clock. And yesterday, as the House knows, there were two Adjournments moved in which very interesting and important questions were raised, but questions which, of course, had nothing to do with the Votes on the Estimates which we asked the House to discuss. The House will, I hope, understand that, I am not at all criticising or complaining of what occurred. I only state facts; and the result of these facts is that, of course, a great deal of time which the Government had a right to expect to be at their disposal for the purpose of their necessary business has, as a matter of fact, been allocated to other business. Under these circumstances, on the last day on which we can deal with the Estimates before the Appropriation Bill is introduced, it is not entirely unexpected and not unnatural, and I hope, not unreasonable, that we should ask the House to give us further facilities for completing our work. This Resolution practically gives the 1201 Government time for taking operative Supply at 9 o'clock at night, for continuing after 12 o'clock, and also taking after 12 o'clock, irrespective of the Twelve o'Clock Rule, the Committee of Ways and Means, which has to be taken before the introduction of the Appropriation Bill. I hope we may be able, in the course of the afternoon, to finish the Vote on Account and to finish the Supplementary Estimates; and, of course, if we are fortunate enough to get through that business, that programme shall not interfere with the Debate on the Resolution which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Sutherland with regard to the operation of the Crofters Act in the Highlands. So far as we are concerned, we are very anxious to hear, and disposed to listen to, what the hon. Member has to say upon that subject, and will be ready to give our own views upon it. I beg to move the Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That at the Sitting this evening Financial Business may be entered on at any hour, though opposed, and be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Sitting this evening."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ (2.43.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman, from my experience of him, is not a man of sanguine disposition, and, therefore, I imagine he can hardly think, after recent Debates in this House, that the Irish Members would be disposed to grant him any exceptional facilities unless he shows them to be essential. The meaning of his Motion is that the right hon. Gentleman is to be allowed to prolong the present Sitting to any hour he pleases, and to force the House to take any business that may be on the Paper. We have had experience of late Sittings of this House, and we had one last night; and the use which the right hon. Gentleman made of that Sitting was, that after he rose and invited me to carry into effect the Notice of Motion which I had previously given, he sat in his place and silently saw me put to silence by the use of an Order of this House, which, if not strained, was certainly severe.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I do not know to what the hon. Member 1202 refers by a "severe exercise of an Order of the House." I must ask the hon. Gentleman to explain what he means.
§ MR. SEXTON
The explanation I have to give is that the Rule of the House which forbids a Member to speak twice on a question under Debate with the Speaker in the Chair—a Rule which, to my knowledge, is waived at every Sitting of the House—was put in force in my case.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is entirely out of Order, and quite irregular in alluding, as he has done, to what occurred last night. I am in the recollection of a great proportion of those hon. Members now present that when that Amendment was moved I waited and called for a Seconder. The hon Gentleman rose and said he supported the Amendment, and when he sat down I put the Question. Having seconded the Amendment, of course it was impossible for the hon. Member to speak again. When he passed my Chair I expressed my regret that under the circumstances he was not to be allowed to speak again if he wished. He said, as I understood, that he was under a misconception, but added he would rise in his place. When he did rise I told him, I hope courteously, that he was precluded from speaking again. What he means by "an undue exercise of the Rules of the House" I am at a loss to conceive.
§ MR. SEXTON
My observations, Mr. Speaker, were not directed either to show the discourtesy of your ruling or to show that you are not perfectly within your technical right, but they were directed to the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps I may be allowed to explain. It was not my fault that the hon. Member was prevented by the Rules of the House from taking part in the Debate when he rose in his place, and I publicly expressed my regret that he was so prevented, and I assure him that that regret was very sincerely felt. It was not my fault.
§ MR. SEXTON
I know it is Mr. Speaker, and not the right hon. Gentleman, who has to deal with the Orders of this House. I think it would be a serious matter for us if he had to deal with them. But I hold that I am unquestionably within my right in pointing out that this Rule of the House has recently been frequently waived by consent of the House in favour of the right hon. Gentleman. Scarcely a night has passed that he has not spoken a second time in Debate. I am not arguing against the Speaker's ruling, but I am speaking of the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. I and my hon. Friends have always agreed to waive that Order in favour of the right hon. Gentleman. Mr. Speaker, I did not intend to convey the least disrespect or discourtesy to you; I was simply explaining that the consideration which we have shown to the right hon. Gentleman was not shown to me. The Motion before us is not to be justified by any reference to what happened in former days whether as regards Public or Private Business. It is a Motion which concerns this evening; if it can be justified at all, it must be justified by the urgency of the financial business which stands on the Paper to-day. The Government have got every penny of money which they need up to the 30th March. The consideration of the business which he asks to take is the financial business of next year. He asks us to vote money which does not become payable until the month of April or May; and that the hours of private Members should be abolished in order to bring forward the consideration of that financial business is absurd. There is not the shadow of ground that can be alleged for this extraordinary Motion; and I shall move an Amendment to insert after the word "Business," the words "relating to the present financial year."
§ Amendment proposed, after the word "Business," to insert the words "relating to the present financial year."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."1204
§ (2.55.) MR. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN (&c.) Stirling,
I am one of those who, differing from many of my friends, have supported the Government hitherto in the demands they made upon private Members for extra facilities for the financial business of the year, and I have steadily endeavoured to do so up to this point of the right hon. Gentleman's proceedings; but I am obliged to part company with him now. As my hon. Friend who has just sat down has pointed out, the so-called financial business before us to-night consists of two separate parts. There is, in the first place, a matter which is urgent—namely, the last of the Supplementary Estimates. Why is there urgency in the Supplementary Estimates? Because all the Votes passed during this year—that is, all the Supplementary Estimates, the Excess Votes, and so forth—must be passed, not only before this financial year closes, but in time for their being embodied in the Appropriation Bill, which must have a certain number of days in order to be passed through its different stages before the end of the financial year. But the Vote on Account, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend, is not for this year but for next year; and it is quite sufficient for the Government to be put in funds on the 31st of March, in order that they may start with their coffers full on the 1st of April. There is no such urgency relating to the Vote on Account as applies to the Supplementary Estimates. And what is this Supplementary Estimate? I wish to say in the most emphatic way that I thank the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury for the way he has dealt with that particular Estimate in order to meet the convenience of Scotch Members, and realising the fact that this is a Vote on which there would, very probably, be a good deal of expression of opinion—of adverse opinion. But now we have that Scotch Supplementary Estimate coming on after the Vote on Account. Now the Vote on Account might open up every sort of subject, and it will undoubtedly be discussed at great length; and the Scotch Members are to be kept waiting until all hours in the morning—until the Vote on Account, which is not urgent, 1205 has been disposed of. In addition to that, there is another Scotch grievance accidentally supervening which is dealt with by the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherland, who is bringing it forward this evening, which is a Motion of great importance, and in which we are all much interested. All these inconveniences are owing to this fact—that this Vote on Account has got out of its place, instead of being put after urgent business for the year. I would, therefore, appeal to the right hon. Gentleman whether, even now, he cannot postpone the Vote on Account to some other day—next week or the week after, any day allowing special time for its discussion before the 31st of March? But the Amendment of my hon. Friend hardly meets the case. I think the only solution of the difficulty would be to postpone the Vote on Account till some future day, in order that we may have a full discussion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Sir, perhaps the House will allow me to begin what I have to say with a personal explanation as to the question raised by the hon. Member for West Belfast. The hon. Member appeared to think—and I am sure he does think—that he has some grievance against me because, unfortunately, as I think, to the interests of the Debate, he was ruled out of Order last night when he wished to make a speech on the subject of the Irish Teachers' Pension Fund. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I, at all events, always listen to him with pleasure, and I am perfectly aware that on that subject he is the most competent authority in the House from the point of view of the opinions he entertains, and I regard it as a great loss to the House that the hon. Member had not an opportunity of expressing those views.
§ MR. SEXTON
Why did not the right hon. Gentleman get up and say so? If he had, the House would have allowed me to speak.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman did not rise at 12 o'clock when the subject came on; he waited until it was nearly half-past 1, and it was then he was ruled out of Order. I confess that at that hour my desire may have been to bring the Debate to a conclusion. Now, Sir, it is true that 1206 the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition have always been in the habit of asking the indulgence of the House when they desired to make additional explanations which would not be in Order if the strict Rules of Debate were enforced. But when this is done it is for the advancement of business and for the convenience of the House, and it is only because it is absolutely necessary to the conduct of our business that the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition are allowed a latitude which other Members, however important and distinguished, are not allowed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I did invite him to speak. I expressed the opinion, which I still entertain, that I should be very glad to hear what he had to say. I would willingly have made an appeal to the House, but the hon. Gentleman himself made no appeal. The usual practice in such a case is for a Member who thinks he has a special claim to have the ordinary ruling set aside in his favour to rise in his place and ask the indulgence of the House. The hon. Member made no such appeal.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member confuses two things. He argued that he had a right to speak; he was overruled on that point by the Chair. But he made no appeal to the House to relax the Rules in his favour. He never asked for indulgence. I can assure the hon. Member that there is no man in this House to whom I would more gladly give indulgence than the hon. Member. The hon. Member and I have too long been antagonists in many hard-fought Parliamentary battle for me to entertain any other feeling for him than one of personal regard, and I trust that on his side the hon. Member will entertain no feeling of rancour towards me. Now, Sir, I come to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs. The case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs and of the hon. Member for West Belfast 1207 is this. They say—"We grant that the Supplementary Estimates must be finished to-night, but then it is not absolutely and legally necessary to finish the Vote on Account—therefore postpone it." Well, Sir, I admitted last night, and I admit again, that the laws of legal stringency in regard to time applicable to the Supplementary Estimates do not apply to the Vote on Account. But, Sir, if the Vote on Account is delayed there will be a Parliamentary inconvenience, and therefore the position is very much the same as if there were absolute legal stringency. Now, Sir, I take up a paper containing the dates on which Votes on Account were taken since the year 1880, and I find this is the state of things. Votes on Account were taken on 8th March, 1880; 6th March, 1881; 24th March, 1882; 15th March, 1883; 20th March, 1884; 16th March, 1885; 19th March, 1886; 21st March, 1887; 15th March, 1888; 22nd March, 1889; 20th March, 1890, and 16th March, 1891. And, Sir, I find on looking back that the view which I take on this question has been taken by a Gentleman who is a very much higher financial authority than I can pretend to be—I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. In the year 1881 the right hon. Gentleman moved for urgency under the Rules then existing for dealing, among other things, with the Vote on Account. As early as the 14th March in that year the right hon. Gentleman made his Motion. Rules of Urgency had been instituted in order to deal with the obstruction prevalent at the time, and in order to obtain urgency a Member was obliged to get a majority of three to one in his favour, so that to obtain the assent of the House to his Motion the right hon. Gentleman required more than the ordinary Party majority. The right hon. Gentleman beside me (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) informs me that the House in 1881 did not grant the right hon. Member for Midlothian the privilege which he claimed. The right hon. Gentleman, however, obtained a majority of 84, and, speaking as one of the highest financial authorities in the House, this is what he said—I rise in my place as a Minister of the Crown to declare that the Votes in Committee of Supply in respect of Excesses for 1208 the year 1879–80, the Supplementary Estimates for 1880–81, Vote I. for the Army, Vote I. for the Navy, and the Vote on Account for the Civil Service and Revenue Departments are urgent, and that it is important to the public interest that the same should be proceeded with without delay.Well, Sir, it was important, as the right hon. Gentleman then declared in the public interest, that these Estimates should then have been proceeded with without delay—and they were proceeded with without delay—I am at a loss to understand why the public interest which influenced the right hon. Gentleman should not equally influence us. I am bound to say, owing to the causes to which I alluded in my opening speech, the financial business of the Government, which is practically the business of the country, has been thrown so much into arrear, that I think it is a reasonable and a modest request on our part to ask the House to give us the same facilities to get our business as far advanced as has usually been done on previous occasions. I freely admit that there may be some inconvenience to the Scotch Members, partly because the Scotch Vote is the last, and partly because the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sutherlandshire is endangered. Still, the urgent condition of Public Business necessitates our proceeding with this Motion even though it causes that inconvenience.
§ MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
The right hon. Gentleman has made out no sufficient case of urgency entitling him to deprive the Scotch Members of the opportunity gained by them in the ballot for debating the Crofter Question. The right hon. Gentleman has failed to show any urgency for the Vote on Account, and I see no reason whatever why the very moderate proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs should not be accepted. I cannot see why the Votes were transposed and the Vote on Account placed in front of the Supplementary Vote. I hope the sense of the House will be taken on this matter, so that a precedent of this kind may not be established without protest.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 91; Noes 187.—(Div. List, No. 41.)1209
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ (3.20.) MR. A. SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will now consent, seeing he has the right to proceed with his Evening Business after 12 o'clock, to leave out the latter part of the Resolution, which is as follows:—And that the provision of the Standing Order 56 be extended to the Sitting this evening.I beg to move that these words be omitted.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "House" to the end of the Question.—(Mr. Angus Sutherland.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
The right hon. Gentleman must have felt, when the figures in the Division were announced, that this was one of those occasions upon which a gracious thing might very well be done. It is not even pretended that we can force the hands of the Government by a Division, but this is one of those occasions on which the minority have got a case—a case founded upon reason, and I. think very good reason. What is the change that we on this side ask? It is a change that I fancy to some on the other side would be as convenient as it would be to us. The Government propose a departure—I will not say from an understanding, but from the hopes held out by them some time ago. About a fortnight ago, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House asked us to take Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays. I feel certain that the right hon. Gentleman and those sitting beside him will admit that this proposal was met in a spirit of courtesy and consideration by those sitting on this side of the House. No one will fail to acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian met in that spirit proposals calculated to carry forward the Business of the House and the general Business of Parliament—a spirit in which I hope such proposals will always be met. But there was, on the other hand, laid down as a condition 1210 on this side, that private Members, at this early period of the Session, should not lose the power of discussing questions of general interest. That was freely acknowledged on the other side, the right hon. Gentleman saying, indeed, that in case of great pressure he might require more time. Now, Sir, we maintain that this is not a case of great pressure, and, on the other hand, we maintain that the private Members' business, which it is proposed to-night to push into a corner, is business of a very exceptional sort. It consists of the interests and it concerns the aspirations and the warm hopes of a population which in extent is nearly one - half of Scotland. The crofters have been extremely unlucky during this Parliament. I doubt if they have had one thorough set debate on the subject on which they care most. Parliament has recognised that the matter which concerns them is a matter on which they still ought to have something done. If I recollect aright, there was one debate on the Address and one upon a Motion for Adjournment. But debates of that description are always unsatisfactory, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should recognise that none of those exceptional opportunities have this Session been taken by those who act on behalf of the crofters. Now there is chance of discussing their grievances, and it would really be an act of grace towards the crofters, if the right hon. Gentleman and his followers will let them have their opportunity this evening. There is another set of Members who are seriously inconvenienced. The Scotch Members have been looking forward to this opportunity to have a free discussion on the financial arrangements between themselves and the Treasury. On this point I do not speak as an opponent of the Government, because I personally approve of the Vote which the Government intend bringing forward this evening. It is for that reason quite as much that I desire to hear that subject discussed at a time when the speeches may be listened to and reported. What has the right hon. Gentleman got to say as to why our request should not be granted, and why the hopes of the crofters should be disappointed? 1211 It is that the Vote on Account is an urgent matter. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in 1881. That proposal was defeated, not indeed by a majority; but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian was only able to obtain 296 votes in support of his proposal, whilst in a full House 212 votes were given against him, that proposal was lost. The right hon. Gentleman himself (Mr. A. J. Balfour) voted in the successful minority; but I do not desire to place much weight on that circumstance. Undoubtedly there was a very strong feeling indeed in the House on that occasion that the Vote on Account was not urgent. The right hon. Gentleman has given us the history of the last ten years with reference to the Vote on Account. In six out of the twelve cases which he cited, that Vote was passed. I would conclude by saying that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the real strength of the case that has been put from this side of the House, and that he will give us some really serious and tangible reason why our request should not be complied with. I am quite certain public time will be saved if he makes this concession, and that the precedence which he gives the Scotch Vote in the afternoon, and the respect which he pays to the Crofters' Question in the evening, will be repaid with interest in the saving of time.
§ (3.35.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman opposite has appealed to me to give further and stronger reasons for the course which the Government are adopting. I thought, I confess, that I had made out a case, and quoted the very high authority of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, which I could have supplemented by quotations from his speeches, and I gave certain dates during the last ten years on which the Vote on Account has been taken. It may be that one-half of the Votes on Account were taken at a later date, but they were never taken at a date so late that they could not be embodied in the Appropriation Bill. If we do not press this to-day we shall not be able to embody it in the Appropriation Bill. It is rather a long 1212 business to explain, but as Friday happens to fall on the very day of the month which it does this year, it becomes necessary to get through this financial business rather earlier in the month than in some other years, and the invariable practice has been that the Vote on Account shall be passed in such time that it can be dealt with by the Appropriation Bill. It has been argued that if we pass this Resolution we shall deprive the crofters of a discussion at 9 o'clock of interesting and important subjects in which they are deeply concerned. But the Crofters Motion is not more than endangered. The discussion on the Vote on Account is a pure innovation. No question was formerly raised upon it except the propriety of bringing forward the Vote on Account at all. We have already discussed the Vote for four hours last night, and surely it may be possible to conclude it with another half hour or an hour's discussion. As to the Scottish Estimates, if these are all finished, as they easily may be, by ten minutes to seven, the Crofters' Motion will then come on. If those assurances are not sufficient I will make it obligatory to allow the Crofters' Motion to come on after the other business is finished.
§ (3.40.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (&c.) Stirling,
I am not going to make a speech, but I wish to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman. This is a matter which really turns upon the urgency of the Vote on Account. The right hon. Gentleman says it is urgent, because if it is not passed to-day it cannot be included in the Appropriation Bill. Is it necessary that the money voted under the Vote on Account should be included in this Appropriation Bill? That is the point. It must, of course, be included in some Appropriation Bill. It must be well known, surely, if there is any legal necessity in the case of a Vote on Account, that the moneys voted in that account must be included in the present Appropriations in Aid.
§ (3.42.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The legal obligation in the two cases is not identical, but there is a public convenience, endorsed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian 1213 and endorsed by the practice of the last ten years, for finishing the Vote on account in time to include it in the same Appropriation Bill with the Supplementary Estimates.
§ (3.45.) DR. MACDONALD (Ross and Cromarty)
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there can really be no saving of time by the pressing of his Resolution, because if the Resolution of the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire (Mr. Sutherland) is not allowed to be brought forward the Scotch Members will discuss the question when the Vote for the Crofters' Commission comes on.
(3.47.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Sir George Trevelyan) made an appeal to the Leader of the House to give facilities for the Crofters' Vote coming on. I think he made his appeal to the wrong quarter of the House. It is the Liberal Unionist section of the House that can after all decide any question on a Division. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) is unable to be present through illness. I notice, only in to-day's papers, that the hon. Member for West Birminghan has accepted the leadership of the Radical Unionist Party in Ross and Cromarty. If there are any Radical Unionists in Ross and Cromarty, or among the crofters generally, they will be more interested in the Crofter Question coming on to-night than with any other business that can happen in this Session of Parliament. I appeal not to the Leader of the House, but to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), who is the Representative of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham at the present time as I take it, and I ask him is the Liberal Unionist section of this House going to follow the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and the right hon. Gentleman having adopted the leadership of the Radical Unionists of Ross and Cromarty the other day, are they going to desert the cause now?
§ (3.50.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I very much regret that the First Lord of the Treasury will not come to terms in this matter. If he will adopt what 1214 we now propose we, on our part, will agree that at 11 o'clock the Debate shall cease, and the Government can then take any Vote they wish. For three years we have been unable to get a discussion on this subject. One year we allowed the Estimates to go through Committee till 3 o'clock in the morning. On another occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire got a night; but, when the occasion came round, part of it was taken for the Tithes Bill and another part for the Land Bill. The Vote on Account contains the Vote for the Crofters Commission. It would save public time if the right hon. Gentleman were to waive this point and give us two hours for discussion. He has said the old practice was not to debate the Vote on Account. I know it was not. It was the Fourth Party who began the thing, and it is absolutely necessary now, because the Fourth Party are governing us, although their sins are finding them out. The Treasury Bench is now taking up the whole of the time of private Members from the beginning of the Session onwards. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman, if he comes to this compromise, that he will get on with business without having to fight us in this fashion.
§ (3.52.) MR. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N. E.)
The First Lord of the Treasury is entirely responsible for the long discussion on this Motion. He admits that the legal stringency of the Vote on Account is not equal to the legal stringency of the Supplementary Estimates. But he would have expressed the matter more correctly if he had said that in one case there is a legal stringency and in the other there is none. And yet, entirely without necessity, I may say, he chooses to reverse the order of these Votes, and deprive the Scottish Members of the time which was allotted to them several days ago for the discussion of a subject in which they take a very great interest. And unnecessarily and wantonly the right hon. Gentleman brings the Vote on Account into the foreground. He professes to have a precedent, and quotes the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian asked the House for urgency 1215 for certain Votes in that year. He did not put the Vote on Account in the first place, he put it in the last place; and he put the Supplementary Estimates in the first place because there was a legal necessity that they should be passed. How did the House deal with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. The House did not accept the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, and so that forms no precedent which binds us at the present moment. The First Lord of the Treasury says the Votes were taken as early as possible. Well, suppose they were, they were Supplementary Estimates, and the Vote on Account came afterwards. As too often happens, the interests of Scotch Members are entirely and unnecessarily sacrificed by this proposal to the transitory convenience of Members sitting on the Government Benches. And, although I fear we have no chance of besting them on a Division; I hope that even now the right hon. Gentleman will see the reasonableness of what I say, and the unreasonableness of wantonly transposing—of wantonly disturbing—the order of these Votes, and that he will give us the Supplementary Votes as desired.
§ (3.55.) DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury surely cannot exactly recognise the nature of I his own proposal. He has told us he had no objection to the Scotch Vote coming on at 9 o'clock. But, if this Resolution is passed, that will not rest upon his will or objection. You, Sir, will leave the Chair without Question put, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire will be precluded from bringing forward his Motion. It is therefore absolutely absurd to hold out the slightest prospect, if this Motion is carried as it stands upon the Paper, of my hon. Friend having the least chance of bringing on his Motion at all. I must put in my protest altogether against the course pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. I do not want to repeat what has been said, but, as a matter of fact, the circumstance that the right hon. Gentleman finds himself in this position at the present moment is entirely due to his own mismanagement 1216 of business. The right hon. Gentleman tells us there is no reason why this Vote on Account should take more than an hour or a couple of hours to debate. The general Debate last night went on from 8 o'clock on a general question of procedure, but practically the Vote did not come on for debate until half-past 11. The whole of the first part of the night was taken up with a Debate on a point of procedure with regard to the Estimates. I protest that it is the function and duty of this House to be the guardian of the public money, and to ask us to vote £3,000,000 of public money with no more consideration than half-an-hour's discussion, and that for the most part devoted to the composition of the Kitchen Committee is a satire upon the functions of this House. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted there is no legal obligation whatever for passing this Vote on Account to-night. There was no reason whatever why he should not have closed his Supplementary Estimates, had he adopted the course of bringing them on first last night. The whole matter would have been discussed before 12 o'clock, and he might then have gone on with his Vote on Account. But he chooses to flout us by withdrawing the promise that this afternoon should be devoted to Scotch Business. I shall take every means in my power not to aid the right hon. Gentleman to gain one minute of time by his unjust proceeding.
§ DR. CAMERON
No; the right hon. Gentleman has a very diplomatic way of expressing himself. Everyone on this side of the House—every Scotch Member—believed we were to have this afternoon specially devoted to this Scotch Supplementary Estimate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That was because every Scotch Member naturally believed we could get through the other business last night.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The original indication I gave was that Friday should be devoted to the consideration and discussion of the Scotch Vote; but that was conditional on the other business preceding it being carried through.
§ DR. CAMERON
There was no earthly necessity for, or reason why, this Vote on Account should have been interpolated before this remaining Scottish Supplementary Estimate. If it were a matter relating to constituencies in Ireland or Wales the right hon. Gentleman would be more cautious. I hope the Scotch Members will do their best, if we go into Committee, to compel their Vote to be taken in its proper place, and the other Vote to be postponed and taken at a later stage of the proceeding.
§ (3.58.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I appeal to the sense of fair play of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury as to whether it is right that the Scotch Members whenever the Business of the House is not sufficiently far forward, should be deprived of a fair opportunity of discussing the Scotch Estimates. I appeal to him on another ground. The right hon. Gentleman has suspended the 12 o'clock Rule, and has it in his power to give what time is necessary for the discussion of that Vote if the House were to sit long enough into to-morrow morning. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman's consciousness for fair play, and tell him that we all understood yesterday, or certainly this morning, that the opportunity was not to be taken from my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire of bringing on this important discussion on the Crofters' Question. It does happen, Session after Session, that whenever this House gets into a tight place with regard to time, it is neither Wales nor Ireland, but persistently Scotland, which is knocked to the wall for want of time. Was there not sufficient time to have called us earlier together instead of waiting till the middle of February before the assembling of Parliament, with the result of telling us now that there is such a hurry that there is no time for a single Scotch thing to be taken up by this House? At this period of the Session surely it is unprecedented that we should have our 1218 time taken from us through no fault of the Scotch Members. In the name of Scotland I protest against such a proceeding.
§ (3.58.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are deliberately wasting the time of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Sir George Trevelyan) has made an appeal to the generosity of Members on this side of the House and to the First Lord of the Treasury. I may say the right hon. Gentleman opposite would have been in a better position to make that appeal if he were oftener in his place, and others with him who, by their position, ought to attempt to control the conduct of hon. Members opposite, above and below the Gangway. What took place yesterday? A great portion of the Sitting was thrown away on a frivolous discussion about post cards which was carried on by hon. Members opposite. They knew perfectly well there were important questions coming on, and, in the early hours of this morning a very considerable portion of the time of the House was wasted, with the result that hon. Members were kept here listening to a Debate which eventually the Members below the Gangway declined to carry on. They now appeal to us to show that generosity which they, on their part, should exhibit to the Government and to this side of the House. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury will stick to his Motion, and will not feel it necessary to exhibit any generosity which, I say, is more than hon. Members opposite deserve.
§ (3.59.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)
The rebuke to the Scotch Members, which has just been administered, falls with singularly bad grace from the lips of the hon. Member who has just sat down, for he and his countrymen have occupied the time of this House for the past twelve years. On account of the policy of hon. Members who sit on the Government side of the House, the House would not grant the just demands of the Irish people. On this occasion the Scotch Members of the House are taking a leaf out of the book of the Irish Members. They have learned by experience that 1219 this House will not attend to the wishes of any nationality unless that nationality asserts itself. And the intention of the Scotch Members is to assert themselves and protest against the action of the Government in robbing Scotch Members on another two occasions of one day; in the one case for a Debate on a subject in which they had taken a great interest—namely, the distribution of money in Scotland in a way in which the Scotch Members do not wish it distributed; and, in the second place, for bringing forward a matter of the greatest importance with regard to the interests of our Highland fellow-countrymen. I think the Scotch Members are now quite right, and I hope they will persist in the course they are pursuing.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
As an English Member I have been witnessing with some dismay the Scottish Party carrying into their business the same vigour as the Irish Party generally show in this House. I appeal to the generosity of the First Lord of the Treasury to give the Scottish Members the time they want for the discussion of matters appertaining to their country. I certainly think the grievance last night was one which deserved much more consideration and discussion than it did obtain. I read with care the Debate we had before on that £90,000, and I was anxious that we should have some Ministerial explanation or a statement as to how the discrepancy arose. But that was not given. Now, to-day, Sir, when Scotch Members have an important Vote to discuss, and are anxious that the time of the House, which was more or less pledged to them, should be given up to that Vote, the Supplementary Estimates are put in place of it. That, I submit, is not a method of proceeding with the Business which is calculated to soothe the susceptibilities of Scotch Members. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give the Scotch Members the opportunity they desire, and so prevent another national grievance arising.
§ MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
I would point out, Sir, that Scotch Members are Members of an Imperial Parliament, and are, therefore, as much interested in the general Business 1220 as the English Members, and they should not therefore stand in the way of the progress of the general Business, so that they may gain some Party advantage against the Government. Such a course is unworthy of Scotch Members. Last night we had to listen to discussions on letter cards, and the question whether teetotallers should be on the Kitchen Committee, and Members had to sit for hour after hour listening to what was little better than mere drivel, every Member of the House not really discussing the matter in hand, but thwarting the Business of the country. We find the Leaders, or those who look upon themselves as Leaders, trying to raise separate feelings, whether Irish, Welsh, or Scotch, against the progress of Business in which Scotchmen, Welshmen, Irishmen, and Englishmen are interested alike, and when such scenes as that of last night occur, it is time that right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench below should speak out. We have had much delay and much obstruction in the last ten years, and I think I remember many occasions when right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench have felt it their duty in some respects to forward the general Business of the House. What have we got to do now? This Vote on Account would have been passed last night, so far as the general sentiment of the House was concerned, but for the wishes of three or four Gentlemen. Why should it not be be passed now? Why should we not get on with the Business we have to do, and get to our Scotch Business tonight? To do so there must be a desire for forwarding Business. I ask right hon. Gentlemen sitting below me to take their fair share in furthering the general Business of Scotland and the country.
§ MR. LENG (Dundee)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down used a very unfortunate phrase when he said we were having this discussion because an important Scotch question is coming on to-night. It is just the opposite. It is because of the extreme danger that it cannot come on to-night that we are having this discussion. The danger is that the Sitting will be prolonged into the small hours of the morning; and, therefore, many Scotch 1221 Members do not take the view of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. We do think that our Scotch Business is squeezed into a corner—is unnecessarily postponed. We have had no explanation to-night why the Vote on Account has been placed before the Supplementary Estimates. It would seem the most natural thing in the world that, as the other Supplementary Estimates have been disposed of, this remaining one should be placed before the Vote on Account. I can speak impartially on this question, because I have some notices on the Vote on Accounts. I entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Elliot) that Votes involving millions of money should be passed over in half-an-hour, for though some questions are of trivial importance others are of great importance. While avoiding anything unseemly in the assertion of national rights, I hope Scotch Members will, more than ever they have hitherto done, stand and act together, and insist that their questions shall not be thrown into the background, as have been too frequently the case.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I cannot help thinking it would be a very great advantage if the House could now come to the practical Business. I have waited to hear the views on this subject of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can do otherwise than feel that the Members for Scotland have reasonable ground for making a charge of breach of faith. There are two things in which they are interested—one is the Supplementary Estimate and the other is the Motion of which notice has been given by the hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. A. Sutherland). I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that if there were an attempt to force on the arrangements as they stand at present no practical good would be done. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be possible that he should take the Resolution he has now put on the Paper, and so modify it as not to make it impossible under the last words to take the Crofters' Resolution to-night; then we could get on to the Vote on Account. If the right hon. Gentleman will agree 1222 when we get to the Vote on Account that Progress shall be reported, and that the second part of the Supplementary Estimates interesting to Scotch Members shall then be taken, I am quite sure the Scotch Members will not abuse the opportunity they have on that Vote. In reference to the Vote on Account, the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, has seen that it would be possible to take it on a later day; and, I from what he knows of the House of Commons and what I know of the House of Commons, that Vote would go through much more easily than is likely under other circumstances. I think the House will feel that they are delivered from considerable difficulty, and it would possibly be easy to forward the Vote on Account if that course were taken. Under these circumstances the right hon. Gentleman might proceed with the Business on the Paper, omitting the words "Standing Order, No. 56," which are objected to by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) as excluding the Crofters' Motion, and we might amicably go on with the Scotch Supplementary Vote, and have the Crofters' Debate in the evening. I think I will not be saying too much if I say the Vote on Account would not suffer if that course were pursued.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman has made an appeal to me of which I have nothing to complain. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that if the Vote on Account is postponed, we should get on quicker than if we take it at this time; but if we should get it in a shorter time than otherwise, it would be at a more inconvenient time. It is for that reason, and not from a desire to force on the House any particular Business, which is, possibly, objected to by a large section of the House, that I must adhere to my intention of taking the Vote on Account to-night. I am compelled, however reluctantly, to say we must endeavour to do this, notwithstanding the brighter prospects which the right hon. Gentleman holds out if the Vote were postponed. But the right hon. Gentleman made another suggestion in which I should like partially to meet his views. The hon. Member for Glasgow pointed out that if 1223 the Resolution is carried as it stands, it would prevent the Crofters' Resolution coming on to-night. I think that might be met by the insertion of the words, "unless the financial business of which notice has been given is previously concluded." If that will conciliate hon. Members opposite, I will move the addition of those words.
§ MR. SEXTON
The hon. Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. E. D. Elliot) treated the House of Commons as if he were a pedagogue, and asked why the Vote was not taken last night. The reason was that it was a Constitutional occasion to challenge the administration of Ireland. There have been many occasions on which we have not received satisfactory replies to our questions, and I shall have to raise them again on the Vote on Account, and it is probable that they will give rise to lengthened Debates.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
The House has been taken to task by the hon. Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot) for not having passed the Vote last night, but we hon. Members who have charge of the Public Purse do not approve of voting large sums of money without any discussion. The reason I rise is that I have on other occasions protested against the suggestion that we should pass Votes on Account without consideration of them. The Government come to-day to ask for a vast sum of money, which will last for some months; at the end of that time they will come for another Vote on Account, and they will then say, as they do now, that it is not the proper time to discuss matters arising in Supply; that we must wait till Supply proper comes on. If we accept the suggestion of hon. Members opposite, we shall be driven from all reasonable discussion of the grievances which our constituents desire us to bring before the House till the dog days. In former days Votes on Account were not asked for in this fashion. The Party in power have so mismanaged and muddled the Business that we are obliged to put off all discussion of effective Supply till the hot days of July and August, when Members are exhausted by long attendance, and there will be no effective discussion whatever. Hon. Members on this side 1224 have made appeals to the generosity and fair play of the Party opposite; but I think they have seen enough to know that they must not expect generosity and fair play from their political opponents. There are important Amendments down to the Vote, and I would ask if it is reasonable to ask us to forego the clear constitutional right of discussing them in order that a Vote of millions of money may be passed in half-an-hour. Owing to the mismanagement of the Government the House has spent time day after day discussing what Business we are to take, and then we are told we must not object if the time for discussion is cut short.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I fear we are losing our time, and perhaps a little of our temper, over this matter. I rise to make a suggestion which will, no doubt, involve some amount of sacrifice all round, but at the same time it may meet the wishes of hon. Members on both sides. We are first to discuss the Vote on Account and any Amendments put down to it. Several hon. Members say it will occupy more than this afternoon; but I think, with their help, we might possibly finish it this afternoon.
§ MR. COURTNEY
It has been laid down over and over again that the first Vote on Account is a Vote which ought to give rise to no discussion, except on matters of pressing importance. It is evident that the Vote must be got, and unless it be urgent matter which cannot be postponed, discussion on several subjects is rather an abuse of power than a proper use of it. Supposing that were done, and the Scotch Vote were taken without discussion on the understanding that the Report of the Vote should be discussed, the Crofters' Resolution would be taken this evening. I understand that the discussion on the Scotch Vote will not be a financial discussion, but one on the policy of the disposal of the money; and if Monday were given to the Report of that Vote it would satisfy the demands of the Scotch Members. Then we might finish the Vote on Account this afternoon, take the Scotch Vote without discussion, and take the Crofters' 1225 Resolution to-night. That is a solution of the difficulty; but it will, no doubt, need some sacrifice on both sides.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
After the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman I cannot remain silent. The right hon. Gentleman's idea is that the Vote on Account should be finished by 7 o'clock, and I gather that it is not altogether impossible that hon. Gentlemen will accede to that. If that were done and the Crofters' Resolution came on at 9 o'clock, that might go on, as was suggested by the hon. Member below the Gangway, for two hours. We might then take the Scotch Vote till 1, without very great strain on the attention of the House. We might get the present stage of that Vote, and if that were done I would undertake that the Scotch Business should come on at 10 o'clock on Monday, which would give two hours more. That would give two hours to-night—not unreasonable hours—and two hours more on Monday; and under the Rules of the House the discussion need not stop at 12 o'clock. That would give, at any rate, four hours altogether. If that programme were carried out, the Business would be: Vote on Account till 7 o'clock; Crofters' Resolution 9 to 11; Scotch Vote 11 to 1; finishing Supplementary Estimates, and then taking a Vote in Committee of Ways and Means. Monday—first business, Small Holdings Bill—I would stop that at 10 o'clock—then go on discussing Report of the Estimates. I think the House will see that I have made a concession, and I hope that hon. Members will fall in with it.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
So far as concerns the matter in which I am more immediately interested—the Scotch Supplementary Estimate—I think the proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury would sufficiently meet the necessities of the case. It is not a very convenient arrangement; but admitting, as I have always done, the urgency of the Supplementary Estimates, I, for my own part, should consider that was sufficient. Whether the arrangement as to the Vote on Account is satisfactory or not I express no opinion.
§ MR. PICTON
With regard to the Vote on Account, I hope the First Lord of the Treasury will not understand that we pledge ourselves to finish the discussion by 7 o'clock. The Amendment I have to move is one involving life and death, and that within the two months before I should have another opportunity of bringing the matter before the House.
§ MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
So far as I understand the proposal of the Leader of the House, we are to give up everything and the Government make no sacrifice whatever. So far as we are concerned, we have not wasted the time of the House. It is the Government who have wasted what time has been wasted. Last night they occupied the time by not giving way on the question raised by the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Fowler), and it is not right that we should be asked to give up our time in the way suggested.
§ (4.38.) Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 217; Noes 122.—(Div. List, No. 42.)
§ (4.44.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
With a view of giving effect to the suggestion which was made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Courtney), I beg to move to amend the Resolution.
At the end of the Question, to add the words "unless the Vote on Account be voted before Seven o'clock, in which case the House do resolve itself into the Committee of Supply at Eleven o'clock, without Question put."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ (4.45.) MR. SEXTON
I think that requires some explanation. If the Vote on Account is not voted at 7 o'clock, at 9 o'clock the Speaker will leave the Chair, and we proceed. But, if it is voted, what will happen at 9 o'clock?
§ MR. SEXTON
Then what kind of a quandary will the House be in at 11 o'clock? The Member for Sutherland will have moved his Amendment, and the Main Question and the Amendment will both be before the House. Will the Speaker then take his departure, 1227 and leave the House with both Questions before it?
§ (4.48.) SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I do not rise for the purpose of preventing any arrangement, but I think the House should always be very careful in setting precedents in matters of this kind. If you once pass a Resolution of this kind it becomes a precedent. Without regard to the particular questions raised here, you must remember that this Resolution establishes a precedent in the House of Commons for fixing hours at which particular Votes or particular measures shall be concluded. You say one measure shall be concluded at 7 o'clock, and another taken at 9 o'clock. So far as I know, the House has never yet attempted to do its business in that form. I think there is a good deal of danger in adopting a precedent of this kind, because it would give an excuse to some Government in the future to set to work to fix particular hours for particular measures as a matter of course. I see a very considerable danger, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that there is some risk in establishing a precedent of this kind. I speak entirely without regard to the particular question raised, but it seems to me that to fix a particular hour for Committee of Supply is to deal in a very serious manner with one of the privileges of this House. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will regard this with a view to the future as much as to the present. It would be very convenient for a Government to be able to use that power but to my mind the proposal is pregnant with serious consequences.
§ (4.50.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I only proposed this in order to meet the wishes that have been expressed; but if the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt), speaking as he has a perfect right to speak as the representative of those sitting behind him, thinks that on the whole the dangers of course overbalance the advantages I have no desire to press it unduly.
§ (4.51.) DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
I see no advantages whatever in the course proposed. The 1228 right hon. gentleman comes forward with a proposal which he tells us has been devised for the purpose of letting us have a Debate upon a Scotch question. That proposition is simply a delusion. The result of that will be that the crofter question for which a place was obtained four weeks ago by ballot will be put upon the shelf, and that the Scotch Vote, on which all the Scotch Members are interested, and which involves a sum of £110,000, will be relegated to the latest hour of the night, and may not be reached until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. What is that but an insult to the Scotch Members? The Scotch Members should be in a position to give to the country their reasons for assenting to, or dissenting from, the proposals of the Government, and though I intend to support the Government on that Vote, that is no reason why I should assist the Government in virtually stifling all discussion in the matter. I think the Amendment is not only useless, but may land us in a very dangerous position.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put.
The House divided:—Ayes 208; Noes 129.—(Div. List, No. 43.)
Resolved, That at the Sitting this evening Financial Business may be entered on at any hour though opposed, and be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Sitting this evening.